The Pope’s Telescope


Image by Sarah G*

The discovery of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe would be the greatest turning point in the history of humankind. Fire, the wheel, religion, organized government, the printing press, the computer—all of these breakthroughs, which have enabled us to advance in so many ways—would pale in comparison. Of course, the scenarios I’m imagining wouldn’t necessarily have to involve intelligence: mere microbes from other planets could help us cure diseases. But what does the Vatican, of all institutions, have to do with this?

In November, the Associated Press reported that “the Vatican has called in experts to study the possibility of extraterrestrial alien life and its implication for the Catholic Church.” The Reverend José Gabriel Funes, director of the 120 year-old Vatican Observatory, held a weeklong conference that brought together thirty scientists—astronomers, physicists, biologists, and other experts—to discuss these issues. Obviously, the possibility of sentient beings existing beyond Earth raises many questions for adherents of all religions, but the conference centered on science rather than theology. This interests me most, however, as an illustration of imagination at work. Continue reading